Raise your hand if you had big plans for 2020 and then had to cancel them. Everyone’s hands up? Ok, let’s proceed. I can’t believe it was three years ago now that I created a document detailing an ambitious travel itinerary, filled with lots of fun and interesting things, and then never booked anything on it. Flights, hotels… nothing. All of my long waiting has finally come to an end! The last couple of months has seen me blow the virtual dust off of my spreadsheet and get back to planning (which for me, is one of the best parts of traveling).
We’re Heading to Japan!
I am elated to reveal the destination of my big 2023 trip. I used my Alaska codeshare miles to book flights for Doug and I to go see the cherry blossoms in Japan in three short months. Hotels are booked thanks to booking.com. It seemed very surreal to finally write the trip down on my calendar and pay real money to make reservations. I hardly know where to begin… I’ve never visited an Asian country before, much less one that I’ve dreamed about for 20 years.
As you may have heard, Japan was among the last countries to open up to international travel, even with cases ebbing and vaccinations being available. The country initially had welcomed travelers from specific green-lit countries as long as they arrived and stayed with tightly organized and curated tour groups. As of October 11 2022, however, tourists from certain countries can now visit the country unaccompanied! There are still protocols that need to be observed, such as proof of vaccine or negative test. These things change from time to time so this is the website I’m checking for updates.
Rough Japan 2023 Itinerary
So… what to do while I’m there? As an anime kid, I feel both familiar with and vastly intimidated by Japan. I spent a lot of time researching recommended itineraries. The websites The Culture Trip and Japan Rail Pass provided a lot of helpful information to me. I decided to follow the Japan Starts Here 2 week itinerary with some alterations. We will be touring the lower half of the country to increase our chances of seeing cherry blossoms! Cherry blossoms start blooming in late March and the bloom goes from the southwest to the northeast.
My Japan bucket list includes: Hanami (flower viewing), eating delicious seafood, spending time in onsen (hot natural baths) and visiting iconic spots like Akihabara and Osaka’s street food stalls. These are just a few of the things I am looking forward to.
- 14 days + 2 travel days:
- Fly from San Diego directly to Tokyo.
- 2 days in Tokyo + one day trip (Nikko)
- 2 days in Kyoto + one day trip (Nara)
- 2 days in Osaka + one day trip (Himeji)
- 1 day in Beppu
- 1 and a half days in Fukuoka
- 1 more day in Tokyo
- Fly home (sad face).
Booking Using Miles/Rewards:
I booked the flights for my last long overseas trip using rewards, and one of the silver linings from the pandemic was that I kept using my credit card for my everyday life and racked up a lot of miles for this trip. I’m still loyal to my Alaska Airlines credit card which I used back in 2018 to get both of us to Europe and back. Amazingly, I was able to secure two nonstop tickets for 70,000 miles + $75 (per person). Since flight costs are up over 40% this year, what a valuable benefit. WOW! It’s so nice to see all the long-saved miles be put to use for such an epic reason.
Make it a Loop
On most of my longer-than-a-week trips, I arrive and depart from different cities or even countries. This works well in Europe, like when we arrived in London and left from Madrid. Or arrived in Prague and left from Milan. But with Japan there are a few factors that made me turn my path into a loop. First, the country isn’t that large geographically. It doesn’t take that much time to get back to Tokyo from anywhere. Secondly, I really wanted to fly nonstop and Tokyo is the only nonstop option. Thanks to the high speed trains accessible via JR Pass (highly recommended by literally every person I’ve asked about it) making the trip into a loop will be a breeze.